Class of 2016: Dave Ullman

Published on October 27th, 2016

Nine new members of the US National Sailing Hall of Fame will be inducted at a ceremony on October 29-30 in San Francisco, CA. Roger Vaughan provides this report on yachtsman and sailmaker Dave Ullman, one of the members of the 2016 induction class:

The story that Dave Ullman’s father made him steer blindfolded when he was learning to sail is true. “It was a big help later on,” Ullman says. “Using more senses than just my sight allowed me to do tactics and not have to concentrate on steering. It was a key to what successes I had later on.”

‘What successes’ would take up several pages, and would include world championships in the 470 (three) and Melges 24 classes; national championships in Thistles, Snipes, Lido 14s (six), Sabots (three), Coronado 15s, 470s (four), and Melges 24s, from 1969 to 2007. His big boat successes would take up another page.

Ullman was selected Rolex Yachtsman of the Year in 1996. He says the number of classes he raced had to do with business. He opened his sail loft at age 21, figuring the best way to sell his product was to win with it. He was right. Fifty years later, Ullman Sails remains one of the top five companies in the business.

His secret? “Minimizing mistakes,” he says. “Sailing is about not doing things wrong. You have to minimize mistakes so your score line is even with no major failures. Eliminating risk is a key to success, having everything worked out and sailing quite conservative, no-risk regattas.”

He considers experience a huge factor. “Sailing is an instinctive sport,” he says. “Experience lets you instinctively know what to do in a situation without having to analyze it. The answer just comes up, and that’s thanks to time put in.”

That’s why Ullman thinks sailors are at their best in their mid-to-late 30s. He won the Melges 24 Worlds in 2007, when he was 61, a victory he treasures. “The beauty of sailing,” Ullman says, “is you can be quite competitive at a higher age. My wife keeps me in decent shape, and you have to pick the right boat.

“As I coached the U.S. women’s 470 team, I often got in their boat to see if it was set up right. But at 70, no way could I race it. You have to pick a Melges, or a J/70, where the skipper’s part is more mental than physical. Because your brain still works. Sailing is one of the few sports where age doesn’t catch up with you as fast.”

For a complete list of inductees… click here.

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